Frenchman Mountain P1K LVMC / 52PC / DS / RS

Thu, Nov 26, 2009

With: Bill Peters
Tom Becht

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile


Bill and I were supposed to climb Mt. Tipton in Arizona this day, but as the astute observer will notice, we didn't make it. We did manage to get up at 6a, we had little trouble crossing the security-enriched experience that is the Hoover Dam (here's to hoping they get the bypass bridge completed soon), and we were able to find our way to Dolon Springs and within half a mile of the trailhead. Not long after passing through the gate near the end, we hit a rock on the right side of the narrow road while traveling at a speed perhaps a bit higher than warranted. After the initial Thunk!, we heard the loud Hisssss! almost immediately. Bill and I looked at each other without undo alarm. We would have to change the tire, but that was easily manageable.

After getting out to inspect the rear tire on that side, our initial calm took a sudden turn towards alarm when we soon heard the fainter hissing from the front tire after the rear tire had expended its noisy energy. Now we were in trouble. The rock we hit had no particularly sharp edges, but was ideally designed to pinch a tire to the rim if above some calculable speed for the given tire being thus exercised. And we managed to pinch both tires, one right after the other on the same rock. Swell.

Our furtive efforts to stop the leaks were soon abandoned when we realized the air was coming out whether we approved or not. We next turned to Bill's cell phone to see if we could contact AAA. No such luck, we were out of range. Too bad for us. Life was pretty sucky at the moment. Dolan Springs is a small community in the middle of nowhere along US95 in NW Arizona. The outlying homes in the area where our car was stopped were more a collection of abandoned and barely managed trailers whose occupants appeared used to living on the very fringes of society. We needed a plan. We needed a MacGuyver-type who could make a patch out of the surrounding cacti and desert sand and have us on our way in a short time. I commented that this would have been a good time to have Evan Rasmussen with us. He always seemed to have the skills for such unplanned misfortunes.

But Evan was back in California at the moment, so we had to settle for doing things ourselves. There was a hand pump in the back of the car that would come in handy if we could fix one of the tires. We changed out the rear tire for the spare and concentrated our efforts on addressing the shortcomings of the front tire that sat there before us, deflated. I thought some duct tape might come in handy at this point, but Bill thought I was crazy. It didn't matter, because we had no adhesive of any type, not even a Band Aid. Perhaps we could stuff something in the half-inch slit in the tire's sidewall. Bill began whittling a small stick that might fit in the hole while I walked about the desert hopelessly looking for something of greater utility. Just finding a stick in the desert is no easy feat and we had to settle for the root of a dead cactus as the only material pliable and hard enough. I tried using cactus leaves but that was quickly deemed a lost cause. Where is all that discarded trash along side the desert dirt roads when you need it, I wondered.

After whittling an appropriately shaped stick, we stuck it in the tire and then began pumping the tire like mad. It worked, sort of. We could get about 15-20 pounds of pressure in the tire, but the air was whistling like mad to escape from around the plug. Bill got in the car and drove it back out about 20 yards until it was mostly flat again and/or lost the plug. We repeated this procedure half a dozen times until our shoulders ached from the pumping. Bill was far better at manning the pump than myself, and I felt rather wimpy at this juncture. We eventually found a place to turn around in so we didn't have to drive in reverse which made progress along the road better, but we still only managed maybe 50 yards before having to repeat the process. This went on for something like an hour until we had traveled perhaps a quarter mile and were still some five miles from the pavement.

Luckily, we found ourselves within cell-phone range after that first hour and happily went about contacting AAA for certain rescue. We were enthusiastic and hopeful once more, at least until we had actually spoken with someone at AAA. Seems they could have someone out to help us out, but only if we're alongside the pavement. Arrgh. Ok, we'll drive the five miles to the pavement if need be. If only that was the only irritation. We were only entitled to five miles of free towing before we had to start paying $5 for each mile after that. "Where would you like to be towed?" the inquiring roadside service representative asked us, while we wondered if there wasn't a certain smirkiness to her voice. She may as well have stuck sharp sticks in our eyeballs, for all we thought that would do us.

We had several compounding problems. It was Thanksgiving Day and every shop would be closed for the holiday. The Subaru has special restrictions for the all-wheel drive to function properly, requiring all four tires to be within about 3/32th of an inch in circumference. Though the tires were only weeks old, they are hard to find and required out-of-state shipment when they were most recently replaced. Kingman was about 30mi, or $150 away, but we would be stuck in the opposite direction from where we wanted to be. Henderson was about twice that distance, but we loathed the idea of paying $300 for a tow. After much frustrating conversation with AAA and then the tow truck driver, we decided we didn't really need AAA afterall and went with our back up plan that we had been trying to avoid - calling my wife.

My family was in Las Vegas with some of my in-laws to celebrate the holiday in a rather non-traditional fashion. They were staying in Henderson where we had met them the day before and stayed the night as well. Now I love her dearly, but the idea of calling my wife for rescue had some very real disadvantages, primarily that she could hold that one over on me for years to come for purposes of jest or perhaps more diabolical. The lost "points" could be immense. But it was time now to man up and make the call.

We were lucky that it was not yet 10a and there was still time before the holiday meal was to be prepared. She was a very good sport about it, and armed with her GPS and our excellent directions, she was able to bring the van from Henderson to Dolan Springs without mishap. In the meantime we had given up on the constant re-inflation exercise and simply drove at a slow speed the remaining five miles out to the pavement. The tires would be unrepairable anyway, so we had only to keep from damaging the rims. Once at the pavement, we stripped off the front tire, left the car jacked up off to the side, and rolled the two flats over to the pavement to await our rescuer.

Due to holiday traffic around the Hoover Dam, it took several hours to make the drive out to Dolan Springs and then several more to get back to Nevada. She was in better spirits than I would have expected and we thanked her profusely for the rescue. Back in town we made, and then consumed the Thanksgiving feast that was planned. Pretty good for a small kitchenette with limited equipment. Even as we were digesting the meal, Bill and I were wondering if we couldn't salvage something from the day in the way of a climb.

A night hike to Frenchman Mtn had been on the agenda since Bill had proposed it some days earlier, but we didn't expect to do it Thanksgiving. What the heck, it would do in a pinch. Tom was due to arrive around 9p after a long drive in from Los Angeles with plans to join us for the next several days. We called to tell him the bad news (we would have to deal with flat tires the next day) and the good news that we were thinking of climbing Frenchman as soon as he arrived. Tom didn't think this was particularly good news, but he didn't reject it out of hand, either.

I was out at the pool watching the kids swim when Tom arrived. We went out to help him bring his stuff in and go to work almost immediately on taking him to Frenchman with us. I like that about Tom - it's relatively easy to convince him to do stupid things like this. The rest of the family thought we were nuts, but they weren't really all that surprised - they were somewhat used to this sort of thing. We grabbed a few warm clothes to go along with our headlamps, tossed them in our backpacks, and headed out in the van.

There is really not much to a climb of Frenchman Mtn. Though it happens to just barely qualify as a P2K peak, it's main draw is its proximity to Las Vegas on the eastern edge. The route to the antennae-topped summit is along a dusty dirt road with almost no vegetation for a few short, but steep miles. With a commanding view of the city, the night lights are strikingly visible from the summit and it was this that we went to see.

Starting from north of the peak, parked alongside SR147 (E. Lake Mead Blvd), we headed out about 9:45p. The hike was easily accomplished without using the headlamps, aided by the waxing gibbous moon. There were no city lights visible until near the summit due to the hidden nature of the road as it makes its way up. It took but an hour to reach the top, followed by a short hike around a protective fence to the highpoint of the mountain. The lights were even better than we had expected, much like the approach view on landing at a large city (or typical views of LA from the summits on the San Gabriels). The lights from the Strip were easily discernable and we spent some time taking it all in and composing a few photos. Bill used the roof of the nearby shed to set up his close-up shots that showed the strip in surprising detail, better than we could be seen with the naked eye. We all agreed it is well worth the effort and the late hour.

With some jogging on the way back (not the safest by moonlight, sans headlamp) we managed to get back to the van around 11:45p and back to Henderson not long after midnight. Bill and I were happy to get at least one peak in on an otherwise lost day, while Tom seemed most happy just to get some sleep that night.


jj comments on 12/16/09:
Next time, have your wife pick up a tire plug kit on the way out of town so that the car can be driven to town. Meanwhile, take the wheel off immediately because the air comes out faster with the weight of the car on the tire.

A can of emergency sealant isn't a bad idea. Because Subarus have Constant-Velocity joints, it should be okay to get back to town. The factory tolerance is for the long run.
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